Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince has slowly become another one of my favorite Harry Potter books.  When I first read it, it was during the summer time and I had my mind on other things - or other books more likely.  I was planning on reading a book titled Eragon after I finished up with Harry Potter and was pretty excited to read that book - so much so that I sped through Harry Potter without really really getting the entire weight of this book.  The only thing I remember is that I vividly imagined the cave scene at the end and in my opinion the scene in the movie adaption was by far one of the best scenes in the entire series.
This book is really heavy with emotions!  It has romance, comedy, suspense, death, and mystery.  Of course, every Potter book has these qualities but it is the sixth installment that really hits things home about how serious the fight with Voldemort is going to be. 
Harry begins the year in a distraught state.  He has just lost the only person he considered family to him, Sirius Black, and is worried about the fight with Voldemort and the prophecy he just heard at the end of the school year.  With the new school year comes new challenges which involve quidditch, dating, and personal one on one classes with Dumbledore himself.  The
point of these classes?  To study Voldemort and figure out his weaknesses so that he can be defeated.
What do I love about this book?  I love how intricate it is.  In my opinion, this is the book that really reveals it all and is a very interesting character psychology study on villains.  The book is very coming of age and dark.  It is the first time we see Harry get to work as an equal with Dumbledore.  I love the Ron and Hermione romantic bits and I also love Harry's interaction with the new minister of magic, calling himself Dumbledore's man through and through - that scene is my favorite in the book.  J.K. Rowling's writing got better and better with each book and it is obvious while reading this book.  Not only is her writing superb but her characterization is brilliant.  In this aspect I am obviously referring to Voldemort.  The reader learns of Voldemort's heritage and his past and how he became the villain they must defeat. Snape is also a prime example of Rowling's masterful characterization.  For those who know Snape's true allegiance, reading this book is a real treat.  It is so great to see that Rowling doesn't underestimate her reader.  She doesn't make Snape conform so that we easily see his true allegiance before the ending.  She keeps him a solid character with his own motives and quite frankly he is, in my opinion, one of the best and most complex characters of the series next to Dumbledore.
To put it simply, I love this book.  It is definitely a favorite!  I will give it 5 out of 5 stars...of course.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran

The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran is a short but thoughtful and provocative piece of literature.  The reading process felt like a holy event, like I was reading some sort of biblical text.  At times it felt like I was a child again, listening to the old and wise mythical stories that taught me virtues and told me tales of morality, right from wrong.  No this is not a religious text.  Yes, it does contain religious but ambiguous implications.  The Prophet is a story on how one can best live and enjoy life.
The book starts off with Almustafa who is leaving the place called Orphalese and is greeted by the townsfolk for one final goodbye.  During this goodbye, the townspeople ask many specific questions about life which include topics such as love, marriage, work, pain, self knowledge, prayer, pleasure, good and evil, etc.  Almustafa answers each question intricately.
Author Kahlil Gibran does an excellent job at writing a poetic, thought provoking and theological work of art.  This book is a true testament to the idea that a book does not need to be large to carry meaning.   It was a quick read, mostly because I didn't want to put the book down.  As I was reading I felt a strong need to read the book out loud.  I wanted to sit down and read it to my younger cousins and record myself reading it so they could listen to the book at home.  I wanted to write down every single line from the book because the teachings inside are so profound and moving that I wanted to live by their principles.  Overall, excellent short read.  I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to find spiritual fulfillment.  I don't recommend this book to be the only thing a person lives by but I believe it's concepts are very much universal to religion and anyone can take something away from the reading experience!  5 out of 5 stars will be my rating.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Telling the Truth by Frederick Buechner

Telling the Truth by Frederick Buechner is a book I was excited to read but also fearful of reading for I had since tried to read his fiction and found it so complicated that I had to put it down in hopes that when I next pick it up my mind will be more mature and open to his writing style.  This is nonfiction though, and perhaps that is why I became accustomed to reading this book versus his fictional work that I hope to pick up again someday, because although his style was complex and beautiful and haunting, it was very clear and mind shattering.  It is funny how you feel certain emotions but can't seem to put them into words.  As a writer I feel like this isn't something I shouldn't be struggling with and yet I do.  Buechner is one of those special writers who not only writes these unexplainable emotions down on paper in colorful terms but also has an ability to connect with his readers and touch a part of them that is held close to their heart.  I believe that all books have the ability to touch our lives but there are some authors that have the insane ability to do this so well that you feel as if reading another author would be an insult to the one you are so fond of.  Indeed I was sad when I shut this book for the final time.  It was truly a remarkable read.
Telling the Truth is subtitled, The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale.  The book is split into four sections - the introduction, the gospel as tragedy, the gospel as comedy, and the gospel as fairy tale.  I want to take a moment to address each section.  The introduction really drew me into the book but it was the three main parts that had me hooked.  One special trait that each section shared was that they all contained many references to Shakespeare's King Lear.  I can't claim to have read the play but I sure want to read it after reading this book.
The gospel as tragedy focuses on the apparent absence of God in the real world.   What does Buechner mean by absence?  He is referring to the idea that people have created that God cannot be real for if he were, bad things would not happen.  Of the many Biblical examples Buechner uses in this section, the one he comes back to the most is John chapter 11, the Death of Lazarus.  Buechner goes to great lengths to explain the psychology of the chapter, explaining that Jesus wept for Lazarus for many reasons.  Lazarus was his friend and he loved him and will miss him but he also weeps because he wasn't there to save Lazarus.  Despite all the miracles, despite being the son of God, he did not save this man and God had not saved him either.  So when he hangs on the cross and shouts, "my God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me", he is asking, "where are you God?"  Even the cross speaks of the absence of God.  And yet this very scene points to the fact that God makes himself present in his absence, Buechner explains.  People try to explain God but Buechner says "they are words without knowledge that obscure the issue of God by trying to define him as present in ways and places where he is not present, to define him as moral order, as the best answer man can give to the problem of his life.  God is not an answer man can give, God says.  God himself does not give answers.  He gives himself, and into the midst of the whirlwind of his absence gives himself." (Pg. 43)
The next section, the gospel as comedy, was just as remarkable as the previous section.  It paints a new picture of the gospel for the reader...to see it as comedy.  I believe it was this section that surprised me the most.  The whole idea of the gospel being comedy is something I never stopped to consider.  Buechner uses the Biblical example of Genesis when an angel comes to tell Abraham and Sarah that Sarah is pregnant at the age of 91.  In this chapter, Sarah laughs when the angel tells her the news and God asks her why she laughed and she then lies, saying she did not laugh.  But it is funny, isn't it?  I can imagine a comedy movie being made about the old lady who was pregnant at 91 years old.  It is so funny because it is so ridiculous and Sarah knew it, Abraham knew it, and so did God.  In fact, he instructed the couple to name their son Isaac which means he laughs.  Another
Biblical example Buechner uses in this section is Jesus' apt for speaking in riddles.  Jesus never gives a clear answer to things, nor does God.  After all, how can the cross be a clear answer of God's love for us?  The ridiculousness of the whole situation is laughable - and I can vouch for that since I have been around many people who laugh at this aspect of the gospel and how it can't be true.  Buechner explains this technique with the technique of telling a good joke.  Say you are at a dinner party and you tell a hilarious joke you heard at work to the crowd of quiet people, all eyes on you expecting to laugh, and you expecting them to laugh too because it truly was quite funny.  What if they didn't laugh though?  There you would be standing, all eyes still on you but no laughter and you may start to sweat and you can't really explain the joke because that would ruin the joke so you sit down embarrassed because no one understood it.  The same can be said for Jesus who stood in front of large crowds speaking the gospel.  He didn't use plain language but colorful and metaphorical and comical language so that if someone did not understand, he would not explain himself for the same reason that you didn't explain your joke.  It would ruin the message.
The last section, the gospel as fairy tale, is one that I consider myself very familiar with.  I don't claim to be an expert on the matter but I will claim that I am very interested in the fairy tale and fantasy genre and how they relate to the Bible and share many Biblical themes.  Buechner references many great works of fantasy and fairy tale such as the Chronicles of Narnia, the Lord of the Rings, and the Wizard of Oz. What these stories, and most other fantasy and fairy tale works is that nothing is what it seems.  The white which is not pure but evil and Aslan is not a killer but gentle.  Dorothy is a little girl yet the hero of the story.  Glinda is beautiful but a witch.  And Jesus is a king in spite of everything.  He looks like a poor man and unworthy but beneath it all he is the son of God, a king, God in the flesh.  Just as the ugly duckling transformed into a swan and the beast transformed into a handsome prince, Jesus is proof that beauty resides in unexpected places.  Many people would expect that if God showed up today he would be dressed in a nice tuxedo with his hair slicked back and a successful back story on his shoulders but in fact God is the man at the soup kitchen poorly dressed for the cold weather or the young school teacher helping her students everyday after school.  Like the fairy tale and fantasy, the gospel is never what it seems.
I don't think it is a big surprise to say that this book moved me in many ways and it is one that I will never forget.  It is easily one of the best books I have read this year and I plan on reading much more from Frederick Buechner.  The book was rich, the language was exquisite, and the content was brilliant and beautiful.  I will give this book 5 out of 5 stars!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire Movie Review

I saw the new Hunger Games movie - Catching Fire - last night and have a few thoughts on the film that I would like to share.  WARNING - THIS BLOG CONTAINS SPOILERS!
Okay...Catching Fire, the second Hunger Games installment in film form.  It has been a while since I read this book.  I wrote a review for it in April 2012!  Wow, I have had this blog for a long time!  I have seen tons and tons of feedback for the film and all of it has been positive.  Besides hearing about the amazing actors and the awesome soundtrack, the review I saw the most was that this film was practically 100% like the book.  Is it true?  I wish I could remember...
That is the first thing I want to talk about.  Going into this film, I thought it would all come flooding back to me but the truth is, I forgot a lot of plot events.  This could be because Catching Fire is to the Hunger Games book series as Order of the Phoenix is to the Harry Potter book series.  It introduces a whole load of new characters and a whole new complex story that, in my opinion, is not easy to get in just one read.  It has to be read more than once.  I would love to reread Catching Fire but right now I want to read new books and have just started reading the final book, Mockingjay.  In other words, I don't have time.  Anyway, when it came to the actual Hunger Games, I forgot most of the events in the arena and was like an average movie goer unaware of what was coming up next.  When I left the theater, my first thought was that the movie was a bit overwhelming - the content was on overload and sometimes certain things felt rushed.  Then a thought occurred to me - for the fans who had read Catching Fire and had looked forward to every single event being portrayed on the big screen, this must have been their heaven on earth.  The movie truly seemed to keep every event from the book which is why I may have felt like it was overwhelming and rushed.  Usually, I am on the other side of things.  Usually, I am a nerd who can point out every single deviation from book to movie.  Now that I have been on the other side, I have a sense as to why movie directors and writers have such a hard time keeping every single book event in the movie. For book lovers, this movie will have been an A+ and possibly movie goers who haven't read the books but love the Hunger Games will agree.  This film stuck to the book and that is a rarity in Hollywood.  But now I understand why so many book to movie adaptions don't stick to the book.  Because this film stuck so close to the book, it did a lot of things that don't work for films and that I believe is why the film felt overloaded with content and felt rushed at times.  I don't believe this film would or should win any academy awards (which isn't saying much because I don't think the academy awards do a great job at choosing the best films to represent the industry and are very biased) nor do I believe this film will be held alone as the best in it's own right.  I think it is a film that Hunger Games fans will love (and I sure loved it but I still love the first film and first book the best).  The average movie goer may not feel the same way because as a film, there could have been improvements.  Regardless, the filmmakers did an excellent job and that is what I also want to talk about in this review - the things I loved, liked, and didn't care for.
Let's start with the things I loved about the film.  First - Jennifer-freaking-Lawrence!  I love that girl way too much!  When she was first announced as the actress to play Katniss, I had never heard of her and didn't know what to think of her.  When I saw the first movie, I found her to be refreshing because I had never seen an actress quite like her.  Her acting style was really unique.  Then I saw her in Silver Linings Playbook, watched a bit of interviews she had done that not only are genuine but funny (including the hilarious Academy Awards question and answer speech) and finally began to understand why everyone loves this girl.  She is freaking awesome!  Which brings me to my point that she did a perfect job at portraying Katniss Everdeen.  To make her portrayal possible though, the film needed some great writers and a great director to convey the psychological effects the Hunger Games have had on Katniss.  These scenes which focused on Katniss's psychological well-being were well written, well shot, and well acted.  My favorite was in the very beginning when Katniss is sitting calmly by the water with her bow and suddenly she hears a sound and instantly reacts as if she is still in the games but before she releases her bow, she realizes it is just Gale coming up from behind and she is no longer in danger.  Besides Jennifer Lawrence, the other actors did a spectacular job as well.
The other scenes I loved in the movie outside of a theme were when Katniss's wedding dress transformed into the mockingjay on stage and when Katniss went to enter the games and Cinna was taken away.
Now for the things I thought were not so great.  First - and this is no fault to the movie as much as it
is the book - I still believe, as I said in my original book review, that the end of the story is a cop-out.  The ending is too easy.  Now for the movie itself I found a few faults but two stand outs that I want to talk about.  The first was the elevator scene where Katniss and Peeta meet Johanna.  Johanna steps on the elevator, complains about her outfit and then begins to strip out of it until she is completely naked.  Was that in the book?  I don't think so.  It just felt awkward to me.  Second - was it just me or did I notice an inconsistency when it came to the clock events?  When Katniss, Peeta, and Finnick run away from the poisoned fog, they tumble down a hill and as the fog approaches them it hits an invisible force field wall.  Later in the film Katniss and Finnick run into the section of the clock where there are jabberjays and as they try to escape, they hit the force field and they can't get out until the hour is up.  How come they couldn't get out of their section with the jabberjays but they could get out of the section with the poison?  Just an observation I have made.
There are also two things missing from the film that I had looked forward to seeing.  One scene I missed was the scene where Katniss has to jump the electric fence.  The electric fence in District 12 is usually never on but when the Capitol learns of Katniss and Gale's trips into the forest, they turn the fence on suddenly while Katniss is in there and she must jump over it to get back home.  The other big thing missing is that we don't get to see Haymitch in his Hunger Games.  I would have liked to see that but I know they are splitting the last book into two films so they will probably bring it up then.
I see that many people more prefer this movie to the first.  I think everyone involved did a great job and I can agree that in terms of little details, this movie did a better job but I still prefer the first one.  Many people disliked the shaking camera movement but I disagree.  I liked that because it felt much more realistic and scary - like if you were the one running near Katniss in the Hunger Games.  I also like the first book better than the sequel so that is another reason I prefer the first film.  Overall, it was a great experience watching it and I know I will be watching it time and time again but I do not feel this film is necessarily better than the first.  I believe they are equally good and work well together though the first movie is my personal favorite.
Although much of this blog is criticizing this film, check out this blog post written by another person who feels that Catching Fire fixed everything that the previous film did wrong.  I agree with most of the blog even though some of it clashes with my view of this film. Check it out HERE!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Reading: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling

This review contains SPOILERS.  
I first read the fifth installment of the Harry Potter series when I was 15, almost 16.  I came to the book late in the game.  It came out when I was 12.  It was the summer time, August to be exact, and I began reading the book at an interesting point in my life.  For my 16th birthday I did not have a big sweet sixteen with a bunch of friends.  I invited four or five to my house for a sleepover and we went to my church's carnival to celebrate.  Nothing fancy.  Before we left for the carnival my mom surprised me with my very first cell phone.  It was a flip phone track phone and I loved it.  My parents were strongly against cell phones and I could tell this phone wasn't as nice as the razor all my friends had but I didn't care.  I finally had my own phone.  I bring this small anecdote up because looking back, this was a huge thing in my life.  The memories from that weekend are still strong in my mind and I distinctly remember my new phone being apart of it along with my friends, family and of course, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.
After my party my dad, brother and I took a weekend trip up to the Pocono's to stay in a small cabin in the same community my grandparents used to live.  I brought Harry Potter with me.  My grandmom came as well and brought her friend Peggy with her.  All I remember of Peggy is that she loved Bingo and that she constantly commented on my love for reading.  She probably commented so much because I was reading so much.  I was caught reading this book constantly and the truth is, I couldn't put it down.  For the first time I began to realize how amazing this series actually was.  Before this point I had only liked Harry Potter.  Now I was falling in love with the books. 
The entire weekend was fantastic.  Between the nostalgia I felt at being back to the location I had spent so many summers and Christmas's at with my family and my new cell phone and the amazing book I was reading, there was nothing to spoil my happiness.  This is the memory I carry with me when I read this book and it is what I think of when I look at it's spine from time to time on my bookshelf.
Goblet of Fire is truly the turning point of the Harry Potter series, but Harry Potter and the Order of
the Phoenix takes the series to an entirely new level.  It is, in my opinion, the most complex of the series, introducing plenty of new characters, new types of magic, tragedy, and an entirely new plot that ends up tying into the entire series!  This novel also has the best villain, Dolores Umbridge - the "pink" professor we all love to hate.  Her sweetness is so repulsive and it is very reminiscent of Professor Lockhart from Chamber of Secrets.  This book often brings into question "what makes a good educator?" and definitely has something to say about education in general.  Another stand out attribute to this novel is that it is very much a Sirius focused story.  Like it's ring book, Prisoner of Azkaban, Order of the Phoenix focuses on the relationship between Harry and his godfather.  The reader learns a lot about his godfather's family history and sees Harry share many strong bonding moments with Sirius.  Rowling does an excellent job at painting the tragic story of Sirius, the supposed escaped convict who can't do anything to help with the cause to defeat Voldemort and is humiliated in the process.  His death marks another tragedy in Harry's life...as if watching Cedric Diggory die and growing up without parents wasn't enough. 
While many critique this novel for being too dark, too long, and too teenage angst, I disagree.  I don't disagree with the fact that the book is dark, long, and has a lot of teenage angst.  In fact, I believe it is those things that propel this novel forward and set it apart from it's siblings.  Even the later books, while still extremely dark, don't quite measure up to this book in my opinion.  Harry's anger only proves that he is human and what I love is that he isn't the typical hero.  He is weak and flawed, unlike many of the typical heroes we see in fantasy.  Of course Harry isn't the first fantasy hero to be flawed but he was the first in my childhood.  While the book is long, I can't imagine any part of it being taken out.  Each chapter and sentence is essential to the story - whether it be to forward the plot or to develop the world and the characters inside it.  Besides Harry's angst, we also see a lot of sassy Harry in this book (for those who are not acquainted with this side of Harry, you should check him out in Chapter 1 of this book) and I love sassy Harry.
There are a ton of other things I want to mention but that would take forever so I am going to end this review here.  Overall, this book is a solid addition to the Potter series and it's darker tone sheds a new light on how great this series is.  5 out of 5 stars!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Reading: Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling

As a lover of all things Potter and fairy tales/stories, I bought Tales of Beedle the Bard right after the final film came out to theaters though didn't pick it up right away.  I think part of me felt that since the book series and the movies had come to a close, this would be a short re-entrance into the Wizarding World and I didn't want to enter and leave it again so quickly.  This past summer/fall I reread the Harry Potter series for the sixth time and figured it was the perfect time to finally pick up the Wizards book of fairy tales. 
Right away I have to say that J.K. Rowling truly is a literary genius.  I get that the Harry Potter series is a bit overrated...it doesn't need to be said.  But for those who take the time to reread these books and analyze them (ex. Alohomora Podcast, Mugglenet Academia Podcast), readers can see all the time and brilliance that Rowling poured into the series.  The same can be said for this small edition, Tales of Beedle the Bard.  The book contains five Wizard fairy tales, the most popular one being (and my personal favorite) the Tale of the Three Brothers.  I guess I consider this a favorite because it holds some nostalgia from reading the final Harry Potter book since it is a big part of the plot.  Another reason I love it is because of the message.  I read it and it feels as if I have read it before as a child.  The story shares the message that not everything is what it seems and that we should be
careful with the choices we make - the same themes we see in the Harry Potter series as well.  This story, and the other four, belong on all children's bookshelves.  Rowling truly is a magnificent writer. 
The other four stories were enjoyable as well.  What I enjoyed most though were the statements made by "Albus Dumbledore" after each tale.  Rowling really knows her characters and is nothing short of brilliant when she writes as Dumbledore himself outside of the Harry Potter book canon.  Not only do we hear from Dumbledore's voice but in that we learn more about the history of this world Rowling has created and I love it!  It is really well done.
The stories were great, though some not as great as others.  Overall, it is a nice read and great if you have any young kids in your life who love reading or being read to.  I will give the Tales of Beedle the Bard 4 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Wasted Wednesday: Miley Cyrus - Why I don't think she is as crazy as she appears

Allow me to start off this blog by saying that I have never been a fan of Miley Cyrus.  When Hannah Montana was a show, I could not stand her.  It was a combination of me hating the show, hating her singing, and hating that so many people bought into how awesome she was.  Okay, so maybe I was a bit of a hater.  I admit it.  I will now also take the time to say that I saw Miley in the Nicholas Sparks movie, the Last Song, and thought her acting was god awful.  It wasn't until a few years ago when I saw her in a music video titled The Big Bang (Rock Mafia) when I began truly began to see her in a new respect.  The music video told a story and was artistic, plus it wasn't made just to have Miley in it.  She was not the star but a side character and I loved it.  Not long after, I saw a graphic posted online comparing Miley to Taylor Swift.  Curious, I read the post.  I don't remember the exact words, nor do I have the graphic to post in this blog, but the basic point was that people call Taylor Swift an angel even though she writes hate and revenge songs and has been with tons and tons of guys while people calls Miley a slut even though she has been with the same guy and engaged for so and so years.  I know Miley and Liam are broken up (haven't heard much about it to be honest), but this was a post I saw probably over a year ago.  My point is that Miley has always been getting hate and I can be included in that.  But this all comes down to the fact that we don't view celebrities as people - we view them as objects.  Miley is extremely talented and I had come to see that after all those years of despising her.
During the summer of this year, Miley began going a bit crazy.  I am not counting her chopping her hair off or anything like that.  I am talking specifically about her performance at the VMA's (which I still haven't seen by the way) and her Wrecking Ball music video.  It was hard not to know about Miley's performance at the VMA's.  I would check Tumblr and Twitter and there would be tons and tons of posts about her.  It was a tweet by Eugene Cho saying:
"That so many would be outraged by and yet, so apathetic by what's going on in Syria, Congo, & North Korea...is truly outrageous."
It was a bit of a slap in the face but I hadn't tweeted about Miley or Syria so I felt I could be excused
(and decided to find out what was going on in Syria).   Then the whole Wrecking Ball incident happened.  I watched the music video - it was pretty horrifying - and found that I actually liked the song.  I read some YouTube comments saying that the song seemed to be about her ex-fiance Liam and as the video progressed, Miley stripped herself of clothing revealing not only her body but herself as a broken person as if being hit by a wrecking ball.  The video depicts her vulnerability.  That is one way of looking at it though there are people who will say that is BS.
With all of this Miley stuff going on, I began to think about child stars and wondered why it is always them that go crazy.  Just look at Macaulay Culkin and Lindsay Lohan.  But then there are child stars that are doing okay for themselves like the golden trio Harry Potter actors Dan Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson.  All five of these people grew up with fame yet their fates are far apart and I knew that statistics would not help me with my questions about Miley.  I began to think about what her childhood must have been like - living with a famous father, being destined for talent, having to deal with millions of fans after being on a TV show, having the pressures of being on a TV in general, having her "dating" life advertised to the public for criticism and observation, etc.  I remember when I was fourteen and posting a video of me singing on YouTube.  I am not a good singer but I wouldn't go as far to say I am awful.  I am just okay...but my video did not get any positive feedback.  The only comments I received were saying rude things to me that I prefer not to restate on this blog.  I felt so terrible that I removed the video and have since never done anything of the sort again.  I was upset about reading two or three mean comments.  Imagine being Miley and have millions of negative comments written about you daily.  Yeah, it sounds like it sucks.
I came to the conclusion that Miley was not crazy as people were saying.  Sure she was acting out (because no other sings act out - Lady Gaga, Madonna, Katy Perry, Rihanna, need I say more?) and sure she is another seemingly classic example of broken child stardom - but I don't think that either of those points to her going off the wall.
About a month ago, my thoughts were confirmed when someone posted another graphic - this time quoting Miley about the TV show Breaking Bad.  The comment says:
"America is just so weird in what they think is right and wrong. Like, I was watching 'Breaking Bad' the other day, and they were cooking meth.  I could literally cook meth because of that show. It's a how-to. And then they bleeped out the word 'f***.' And I'm like, really? They killed a guy, and disintegrated his body in acid, but you're not allowed to say 'f***'?"
I've only watched the first two or three episodes of Breaking Bad and so far, I am not hooked but repulsed and wracking my brains wondering, why is this beloved again?  Hearing Miley's quote was a bit refreshing but also had a good point about America and this weird way in which we make sense of things.  Miley is spot on with her quote.  Why is it that we can have shows about illegal drugs that teach people how to make the drugs and yes the F-word is bleeped out.  Seriously?
My point is - I don't think Miley is as crazy as everyone thinks.  It seems like she is maybe trying to tell us something in the only way she knows how - by performing and acting.  That was how she was raised.  I have no doubt that she has a good head on her shoulders but I hope that she knows how much her actions are influencing the youth of America and I pray that she is able to deal with her issues and not worry about what the media says about her.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Reading: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling

The fourth installment in the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, marks a change in the atmosphere in J.K. Rowling's style of writing.  No longer is Harry considered a child's fantasy book series but rather a distinguished young adult series.  The big difference between this fourth book and it's predecessors is the length.  Being a hefty 734 pages, this book took a step up from it's usual 300-400 pages.  The style of writing improved as well.
Alright...time for my background story with this book.  I received this book as a gift for Christmas from my aunt when I was 11.  I do not have that original hardcover...I sold it on Ebay.  The reason I sold it is because my copy was, for some reason, smaller than the typical publications.  It turns out, it must have been a very rare copy though I don't think it was worth a lot.  Never the less, I kinda wish I had kept it.  Anyway, there isn't much for me to say about this book except that I read it when I was 12.  I remember reading the first chapter on the bus to school and being really confused but it was a good kind of confused because it meant that this book was distinguished and that I was reading a more mature text.  Ironically, I now consider the first chapter of this book to be one of my favorite chapters in the entire series.
Goblet of Fire takes the Potter series in a brand new, exciting and mature direction.  There is much more depth to the book than the previous three, brand new characters and story-lines, and at the same time, readers still have the same element of mystery and humor that they have come to know and love.  Rowling has a great way of dropping hints and foreshadowing throughout her writing.  This book is very special because it is literally the center of the series - it is the moment when the books change from adventures at Hogwarts to darkness and evil.  It is a nice look at the psychology behind why we do what we do - whether it be Ron's jealousy of Harry's fame and Hermione dating Victor Krum, Cedric's want to help Harry after Harry helped him, Fudge's choice to not believe Voldemort
has returned, or Voldemort's choice to choose Harry's blood over a random person's when he returns.  Another great aspect to this book is the introduction of S.P.E.W!  Hermione's call to act for the house elves is arguably (next to Dumbledore's Army in book 5) the biggest call to action that has inspired young readers to also act for what is right.
While Goblet of Fire is an excellent fourth novel, it has it's inconsistencies.  Many are specific events and I am not going to sit here and write them all out but they are there.  It is no secret that Rowling felt rushed when writing this novel and it has been said that she still is not satisfied with it.  Regardless, this novel is still hands down the best thus far and I am giving it 5 out of 5 stars.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Reading: Harry Potter for Nerds edited by Travis Prinzi

Ever since being a guest on MuggleNet Academia this past June, my world has dived head first into Potter mania.  I recently reread all seven books for a sixth time and have been able to convince my friend to read the series along with me though how much she enjoys it, I will leave it to the imagination.  I have become a regular listener to the MuggleNet podcast called Alohomora!, a global reread of the Potter books, and I continue to listen to MuggleNet Academia.  The things I have learned and discovered in these past five months is nothing short of remarkable.  I can't say that I look at Harry Potter in the same way that I did at the start of 2013.  I now have a much greater love the for complexities of the characters, J.K. Rowling's wonderfully circular crafting of the series, and the beautiful names, spells, and places that come from the Latin language.
It was during one of my listens to MuggleNet Academia that I heard of Travis Prinzi, a Harry Potter academic.  An entire episode was dedicated to Prinzi's new book - Harry Potter for Nerds.  On the episode, hosts Keith Hawk and John Granger discussed Prinzi's new book of essays and what to expect from it.  After listening to the podcast, I drove home from work and ordered Harry Potter for Nerds on Amazon. 
This book was just as excellent as I expected it to be.  The content was so unique and unlike I had ever heard.  This book, I believe, is one of many (and many more to come) that ultimately prove that Harry Potter is a book series worth studying in academia and worth reading.  The series is a modern day classic.  Essays in this book include Is There Hope for Slytherin House?, There and Back Again: The Chiastic Structure of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter Series, Muggle Studies 101, Technological Anarchism, Merlin's Pants!: The World of Wizard Insult, Cracking the Planetary Code, and more!  Those essays I just listed are all fantastic and so are the others in the book.  I can't give this book enough praise.  The essays were well written by a diverse group of individuals, each united by their love of this book series.  I recommend the book to any lover of literature and especially to those Harry Potter fans that want to study these books on a higher, academia level.  I give it 5 out of 5 stars!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Reading: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban - the third book in the seven book series of the Boy Who Lived.  In Harry's third year at Hogwarts, he learns of an escaped convict named Sirius Black who is out to kill no one other than Harry himself.  But that is not what scares Harry the most this year.  Hogwarts is playing host to the dementors, guards of Azkaban prison.  Whenever they draw near to a person they cause the person to feel as if every happy memory has disappeared from their life and for Harry the affects are much worse since his childhood is not filled with many happy memories.  Through the midst of all the darkness, neither Harry nor any of his friends realize that among them lives a traitor in hiding who may be the key to discovering a puzzle piece in the murder of James and Lily Potter, Harry's parents.
As usual with these books I would like to start out with a bit of background I have with this book.  I read the book when I was 12 in sixth grade.  I really enjoyed the book at the time, particularly the chapter titled Hermione's Secret.  I still own the same copy I read from all those years ago.  It was a hardcover copy.  I loved the cover art as a kid, particularly the green lettering of the title.
Prisoner of Azkaban is yet again another fantastic sequel by J.K. Rowling.  The way she crafts the mystery in the novel while also creating Harry as a realistic teenage boy is nothing short of brilliant.  In my opinion, Prisoner of Azkaban is the most poetic of the books - the second being Deathly Hallows. This book begins the theme of Harry's search for a father.  We see many beautiful one on one conversation scenes between Harry and Professor Lupin.  Another beautiful set of scenes are the ones where Harry is either confronted with the dementors or when he is fighting them.  The writing was just so well done and moving.  Well done J.K.R.!  Another thing I love about this book is that it is the first time we get Ron and Hermione love tension.  I love the relationship Rowling creates between these two and I love that she had is all planned before we even knew it ourselves!

   “‘Why?  Why do they affect me like that?  Am I just – ?’‘It has nothing to do with weakness,’ said Professor Lupin sharply, as though he had read Harry’s mind.  ‘The dementors affect you worse than the others because there are horrors in your past that the others don’t have.’  A ray of wintery sunlight fell across the classroom, illuminating Lupin’s gray hairs and the lines on his young face.” 
As with all Harry Potter books, the ending contains a lot of dialogue where people explain themselves
which is extremely unrealistic but Rowling creates good reason for the dialogue.  These books are masterfully written and well thought out though I seriously wonder if Rowling could have somehow avoided these easy way out explanations at the end.  It is not just in this book they occur.  It is in all of the books.  I think these attribute to the fact that I had absolutely no clue what was going on by the end as a kid and it is also why these books need to be read more than once.
Okay, you know I want to give this 5 out of 5 stars but I am actually going to give it 4 out of 5 stars for the simple reason of what I stated above.  The first two books were Rowling's debut but this is her third book and while I get it is a children's book, that does not give anyone an excuse to cop out of writing a good ending.  I do not mean the ending of this book was not good but, as mostly all the Harry Potter books end, it had the lengthy explanation and then it was suddenly "okay, another year gone.  See ya next year guys!"  By the third book, Rowling's writing definitely improves but the endings always stay the same.  This will be the only time I count it against her.  As you know, I think the books only get better and better and I truly believe they deserve five star ratings. 

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Reading: More or Less by Jeff Shinabarger

Choosing a lifestyle of excessive generosity is the subtitle of this book, More or Less by Jeff Shinabarger.  I found this book on a website called NoiseTrade and it was available for free audiobook download so I took advantage of the opportunity.  Of course, audiobooks are not my favorite form of entertainment but this one I can honestly say I enjoyed immensely.  The book dares to ask a question all of us need to ask ourselves at one point or another - what is enough?
As Americans, we live the life of luxury.  We have everything available to us.  We can afford to upgrade our phone before the contract expires just so we can have the newest and coolest version of things.  We can afford to throw away our left over food so we can have a fresh meal the next time we are hungry.  Shinabarger dares the reader to go on a few social experiments while also presenting a few of his own personal stories of social experimenting and shows us why we need to appreciate what we have and how we can learn to live with enough instead of excess.
As I stated in my previous book review, I have been super busy and have not come to this blog in almost two months.  I listened to this audiobook about three months ago.  Yeah, not a good choice on my part to wait this long to write the review.  Not only that but because I listened to the book instead of actually reading it, I have not really gotten the full experience in my opinion because I forget it much easier.  Therefore, I will do my best in rating this book though I can definitely say I know I enjoyed it and will probably come back to read it sometime in the future.
There was one particular moment in the book that really inspired me and I would like to share it in this review.  Shinabarger and his wife decided that for one month they would not buy any food from the grocery store and eat only what was in their pantry.  They completed this experiment, and gained some weight in the process, but completed it none the less and they still had some food left by the end.  I was amazed and also jarred because just hearing about this experiment sort of woke me up and reminded me how lucky I am and how much I have. 
While the book is written by a Christian author, it is NOT a Christian book.  If you are familiar with my blog, you must know that I hate when things are described as Christian.  Christian is not an adjective.  You can't call a sweater Christian or a CD Christian.  You can't say - that painting of angels believes Jesus died for our sins.  It doesn't make sense.  Anyway...this book is secular.  It presents a universal truth that everyone can agree with, whether they are Christian or atheist or Buddhist or Jewish.  Christians are moved to do good things through Jesus, but the book does not make this claim.  I did not pick up on this small detail until I read a review of the book on GoodReads.  It is a valid point though I think as Christians we are called to unite with those who do not agree with us and therefore unite our faith with the secular. 
This book was excellent.  It is not a literary book by any means.  It is a book that challenges the reader and while literary books do challenge us, this just takes a different approach.  I will give this book 4 out of 5 stars.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Reading: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is the second book in the Harry Potter series.  Viewed as the best stand alone mystery in the entire saga, Chamber of Secrets follows Harry at his second year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.  During Harry's summer holidays, a house-elf named Dobby comes to warn him not to go back to school because terrible things are apparently going to occur.  Harry ignores Dobby's wishes and goes back to school anyway where students are soon attacked by a mysterious culprit.  Someone is going around the school and petrifying the students, turning them to unmovable beings.  Harry is determined to solve this mystery before someone is killed.
Before I formally begin this review, allow me to apologize for my long absence from this blog.  Between work, Harry Potter book group, reading and NaNoWriMo, I have been super busy. 
Now, allow me to give you a bit of my personal history with this book.  Chamber of Secrets is the first Harry Potter book I ever bought.  Before buying it, I viewed Harry Potter as a stupid book series and had no interest in reading it.  My love of books got the better of me though when I was in a Toys-R-Us and there was a Harry Potter book section.  Since they did not have the first book in paperback (I did not like hardcover as a kid), my parents bought me the second book in paperback which I still own today.  I do not have many strong memories of reading the book though I do remember looking through it, after I bought it, in my front yard during a summer evening and I also remember bringing it to school with me and showing my friends that I was on Ch.3, The Burrow.
The second book of the Harry Potter series does not disappoint.  While the writing is pretty much on
the same scale as the first book, the reader gets a bit more insight into Harry's dislike of fame and Harry's search for identity.  The mystery in the book is indeed the best of all the book's in my opinion...besides the overall mystery that consists throughout the series.  Harry, Ron, and Hermione must search for clues and ultimately find them through rule breaking, being in the right place at the right time, and each others natural abilities and talents.  Another thing that sets this book apart from it's siblings is that it is arguably the most comical - mainly because of the character, Professor Lockhart.  Lockhart's silly and conceited mannerisms are nothing short of hilarious and add a very dry humor to the serious tone of the book.  This book also contains my all time favorite quote from the series, as you can see on your right, said by one of my favorite characters, Albus Dumbledore.  "It is our choices, Harry, that show us who we truly are, far more than our abilities."  One of the reasons I love these books is that they not only teach me but they confront me and force me to think about my own life and choices.  Of course, many books do the same thing but I believe it was Harry Potter that first got me thinking this particular way about literature.
Chamber of Secrets is a great sequel to Philosopher's/Sorcerer's Stone and is indeed better than the first though not the best in the series.  As you will notice when I review the later books, I believe they get better and better as Harry ages.  This book still fits as a children's book though I think the humor will go over children's heads and the dark material will cause nightmares.  The mystery is a so-good-you-can't-put-the-book-down mystery and Rowling does an excellent job of supplying the reader with enough clues and yet still surprise us by the end.  As expected, I will give this book 5 out of 5 stars.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Reading: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's/Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone was first published in June of 1997 by Bloomsbury in London, England.  In 1998, Scholastic Corp. published the book in America, changing the name "Philosopher's" to "Sorcerer's" for fear that American readers were not familiar enough with the original term and sorcerer was more suggesting of magic.  The sales figures for the book were huge and the series rapidly became one of the most demanded among young readers.  What was even better was that the readers were not phased by the series increasing in length.  Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone created a generation that loved to read again.
I first read this book when I was ten years old.  The book was a big step up compared to the books I typically read which included the Little House books and the Magic Tree House series.  I distinctly remember crying when my brother splashed water on the copy my book when I was reading the fourth chapter, The Keeper of the Keys.  Finishing the book was a huge accomplishment for me.  Never had I read a book on such a large scale with such small print.  Little did I know that the series would remain with me for the rest of my life.
Reading Harry Potter has become an annual ritual for me.  I am now on my sixth re-read and loving every page of it!  This series has become a part of my life.  I can honestly say that I would not be the same person I am today without these seven books.  These books have helped me grow as a writer, as a reader, as a Christian, and as a human being.
Philosopher's Stone, in my opinion, is the weakest of the seven books.  The writing is good but not (yet) great and many of the plot points, such as bringing Norbert to the astronomy tower and having a Quidditch game during the evening when it is clear the games are always in the morning or early afternoon, seem forced and, dare I say, unrealistic.  Of course, Rowling grew as a writer and this problem didn't remain.  That being said, I love it this book.  The introduction to Harry's story is a magical one!  I won't give a recap because...well, you all know the story by now.  J.K. Rowling's debut book contains fantasy and mystery, history and alchemy.  It is clear from the very beginning that she knew what she was doing from the start.  The book plays cleverly with words, specifically when speaking about spells, locations, and character names.  It touches heavily on three big themes and these themes are consistent throughout the entire series and they are - death, choice, and love.  While this first book is very black and white in comparison to the later books, it still manages to accomplish an amazing feat.  Rowling combines the real with the mystical and creates an entirely new world that very much mirrors our own.  This book is only scratching the surface of what is yet to come.  She allows the reader to see this world through the eyes of an eleven year old - innocent, simplistic, and beautiful.
What do I love about this book?  I love the humor.  During this sixth re-read I genuinely laughed out
loud at several moments.  I think the funniest moment for me is when Hagrid is keeping Norbert the dragon in his hut and telling the trio it isn't a big deal, in which Hermione replies, "Hagrid, you live in a wooden house!"  There are also many poignant moments in this book, as is the same with the rest of series.  My favorite scene in the book is when Harry comes to the Mirror of Erised and sees his family staring back at him.  Harry has a longing to have a family and he yearns for them terribly more than anything else in the world.  It is truly heartbreaking to imagine growing up without any parents, let alone growing up only to realize that your parents were brutally murdered.  Rowling does a great job of foreshadowing in this scene by showing the reader that this is not something to be taken lightly and it is extremely important to the series. 
I guess it is obvious that I am going to rate this book 5 out of 5 stars.  Again, while I believe it is the weakest book in the series, I still love it...and it's Harry Potter.  How could I not love it?

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Thirsty Thursday: Ryan Seiler / Into the Wind

Ryan Seiler is most famous for his participation in the Harry Potter (wizard rock) band, Ministry of Magic - but his first solo record, Into the Wind, takes on an entirely new "adult" atmosphere full of folksy acoustic tracks that stack much higher compared to his past work in techno sounds and auto-tuned voices.  Into the Wind is a compilation of crisp, acoustic songs that all come together to form a unique album that seems to be a prayer of sorts.  Seiler does not forget his Harry Potter roots, nor does he forget his faith and does a great job combining the two.  Of course there is a lot less Harry Potter and a whole lot more spiritual elements on this record.
I chose this record for this edition of Thirsty Thursday because...well, because I love this album!  When the album first came out back in 2011, I bought a few tracks but the stand out track for me was a song titled Greener.  Greener is by far my favorite track on this record...among a few others.  I can't say I listened to it much at the time though...but my music preferences have changed a lot since then.  This past weekend, I sat at my computer and listened to this album straight through.  The album put me at peace.  I was sitting at my desk in my bedroom and the windows were open letting in a cool autumn breeze.  It felt like pure bliss and I didn't want the album to end.
Let's start off with the fantastic album artwork.  Good album artwork isn't a must but I always love seeing the artistic choices made by the artist that represents their particular body of music.  Into the Wind does just that.  The simple water color image of a ship alone at sea being blown in the wind really represents this album because Seiler is like a ship at sea, tossing and turning from the winds of life but always staying afloat through it all and learning and growing stronger with each hardship.  The title of the album, Into the Wind, seems to be saying that even though we are scared we must go out to sea and experience the rough waves in order to become true sailors.  We must not be afraid to go into the wind and experience life for the good and for the bad moments that will ultimately make us a better person because of said experiences.  Seiler's music on this album definitely reflects this theme.
What I love about this album, besides it being peaceful, is that each song is a prayer and by the end the album as a whole feels like a poetic reflection on spirituality.  The album starts off with the track July - a warm, simplistic tune that reflects on summer activities.  The second track pays homage to Seiler's Ministry of Magic days which I love.  He performs an acoustic track of the song Don't Leave, a song written about the final book in the HP series, Deathly Hallows.  I'm so glad Seiler chose this specific song to be on this record because it is one of my favorite Ministry of Magic songs.  The reason I love it so much is
because it isn't overly Harry Potter.  Taken out of context, the song seems to be about friendship and childhood innocence.  While I'm glad the song is on the record, it is the weakest track in my opinion for the fact that it contains stiffer lyrics compared to the rest.  The album continues the acoustic vibe with more heavily spiritual tracks that all hold up very nicely not only musically but lyrically.  If Seiler is recognized for anything with this record, it should be for his fantastic contemplative lyrics.  Stand out tracks for me include And We Sing, Greener, Run Home, and To See This.  Seiler also takes advantage of using repetition throughout this album.  He does this through his lyrics and through the themes he sings about.  The album ends with the song Cannonball Coming.  At first glance this song doesn't seem to stand out like the rest on the album but as I listened further I truly began to sense a state of finality to the song.  It is a perfect track to end the record and it, once again, pays homage to his Harry Potter roots.  Harry Potter fans will catch this reference since the song seems to be about moving on yet never forgetting how you became the person you are today and to savor every moment in life.
Into the Wind isn't the typical album you would see in a Christian book store and that is A-OKAY with me.  It dares to talk about God and spirituality in a fresh and raw way and Seiler's rugged voice combined with his beautiful lyrics make for a wonderfully refreshing album! It is a must buy!  You can pick it up on iTunes or listen free on Spotify.  Physical copies are also being sold on Amazon!
"Stay thirsty my friends!"

Similar albums to Ryan Seiler's Into the Wind: Wesley Blaylock; Wesley Blaylock, Charlie Simpson; Young Pilgrim

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Reading: Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell

Here I am with yet another Rob Bell book review.  Don't worry, this will be the last one for a while.  Also, unlike my last Rob Bell review, I'm hoping this review will actually be a good review instead of me just ranting about why Rob Bell confuses me.  Let's get started!
Velvet Elvis is another one of the books I listened to instead of actually reading.  I don't think I am going to be doing much with audiobooks any longer - mainly because the information doesn't stick with me and the impact doesn't feel as real as it would feel with reading words on pages.  Plus, I feel like I am cheating when I listen to audiobooks.  It isn't the same experience for me.
Rob Bell's Velvet Elvis has nothing to do with Elvis.  I mean, Bell mentions Elvis in the very beginning of the book but I'm not exactly sure what his excerpt had to do with anything the book talks about.  It makes for an interesting title though...I guess?  Anyway, in this book Bell talks about repainting the Christian faith.  The stand out analogy for me in this text was when Bell compared faith to jumping on a trampoline vs. building a brick wall.  When our faith is set firmly like bricks in a wall, we will always be unmoving and unchanging.  If one brick is taken out of the wall, we fall to the ground.  However, when our faith is like a trampoline, we find we as Christians are much more flexible.  Because faith and culture are always changing, we need to be open to new ideas that will spring us forward (or up higher).  This is one of the many analogy's Bell uses in this book and I must say, I find this one specifically to be quite poignant. 
As usual with Bell, we have the overly cheesy chapter titles and closing sentences.  Although I do not prefer audiobooks, Bell is a rare author that I like to listen to.  I don't think it is because he has a nice voice or that he brings his books to life.  His reading made the book seem more like an extra long sermon rather than a 100 page book.  I can't say this is a good thing but I say it more to justify me listening to the book instead of actually reading it.
Moving on...that is all I really have to say about Velvet Elvis.  Unfortunately I waited a long time to write this review so not only is my memory failing me but I also don't want to say too much about the book because that would make me write a ten page blog post.  There are a lot of topics that Bell touches upon in this book and I can't even come close to addressing them all.  I will give this book 4 out of 5 stars and I encourage you to read it (or at least listen to it).